The question I had a very intense two-year affair with someone who, like me, had long been married. Eighteen months in, I left my wife, feeling sure my affair partner was the love of my life, and in the hope it might lead to us being together. This led to the loss of my home and much of my social network, and the need to change jobs.
My affair partner decided to stay in her marriage, citing the wellbeing of her children. She wanted to keep the relationship with me going indefinitely in secret. This rapidly became unbearable to me and I have now cut off all contact, which was not her wish. She was evasive about whether she intended, or even wanted, to leave her marriage and be with me openly. Her final message to me expressed that this was now her intention, but that she could give no sense of a timescale.
I have told my wife absolutely everything and she has been phenomenally sane. She is offering to have me home, for a trial period, with a view to mutual kindness, leading to either reconciliation or a better parting. There was much of value in our shared life.
I know that the rational thing to do is to assume my affair partner will never be able to be with me, but I still love her and think of her with hope. I have never felt the way I feel when in her presence with anyone else. Every day, a part of me wants to reach out and tell her this, for the millionth time, to try to win her. I obsess about it. Another part of me wants to have no contact. My life is stuck.
Philippa’s answer “I wouldn’t want to belong to a club that would have me as a member,” said Groucho Marx. What is the pull of a potential partner who is not committing to you? What is this about? Did you have to work hard to get the approval of a parent? Did a teacher you had a crush on withhold praise? Have you had a pattern of falling for unavailable lovers, those who lived abroad, or were already married?
I want you to think about your longing. At the moment, you are your longing, your longing is you, you are it. Take a step back from it. Look at it in a detached way. You’ve told me: “In my whole life, I have never felt the way I feel when in her presence.” And I’m tempted to prompt: “What about your mother when you were two?”
Now this might sound far-fetched, but look at the way a toddler wants their parent. Notice the clinging, the desperation, the longing: it’s all there. I’m guessing you may be haunted by an inner ghost of that baby or toddler who longed and longed and sometimes had the ecstasy of being momentarily held, in an intermittent way that reinforced the longing and made you long all the more.
The trouble with what is familiar in this way is that it feels right. Sometimes people say love feels like “coming home”, like coming back to what is familiar, from a time even before words could explain that familiarity. You learned how to long – like a sort of default mood for you – before you knew any words.
The love you have with your lover sounds like a “falling in love” type of love. The type we see in films where you are swept up in a passive way: it happens to you. Very much, really, like it happens to a baby or a toddler, they don’t do anything, they fall into longing. But the love your wife is showing you? Wow! That is a different sort of love altogether. That isn’t passive, that is love as a verb, that is love as an action, that is the sort of steady, committed, available, consistent kindness that, had you experienced it as a toddler, I don’t think you’d be in this situation now. That is probably the love you need, rather than the one you think you want.
What would I advise you to do? Go home and develop the appreciation for your available (at least for the moment; she probably has her limits) kind wife into something deeper. Not the heady obsessional, no-one-has-had-a-love-like-ours craziness that you had for your lover, not that raging sea, but a steady lake than runs deeper than you could have ever imagined. And that old, old scar that your lover picked into a scab will heal and – more than heal – will become memory upon memory of love in action, rather than love that falls down a familiar hole again. Don’t fall into the longing-trap, be loving. It’s better, far better in the long run and leads to something more sustainable.
Short answer: be interested, not in your lover, but in the way you long for someone who won’t prioritise you. Find out about that part of you. Find a narrative for how that part came into being. Second, appreciate what you do have.
If what I’ve said has any resonance for you, follow it up. If it all seems like double-Dutch, don’t worry, keep seeking help until you find what you need. You may also find a therapist who uses attachment theory useful, too (welldoing.org).
If you have a question, send a brief email to firstname.lastname@example.org